Book links: Amazon, Goodreads
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Aryan is the author of The Coward and The Warrior (the Quest for Heroes Duology), as well as the Age of Darkness and Age of Dread trilogies. His first novel, Battlemage, was a finalist for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best debut fantasy novel. It also won the inaugural Hellfest Inferno Award in France. He has previously written a comic book column and reviews for Tor.com. In addition, he has self-published and kickstarted his own comics. You can find out more about Stephen and his books on his website: Stephen-Aryan.com
Publisher: Angry Robot (July 11, 2023) Print length: 432 pages Formats: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Thank you for joining us, Stephen, and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, I’m Stephen Aryan. I’m a traditionally published fantasy writer. My debut, Battlemage, was published in 2015. The Judas Blossom is my 9th novel and the first in a trilogy called The Nightingale and the Falcon. I love playing video games, D&D role playing, reading SFF books and drinking real ale.
Who are some of your favourite writers, and why is their work important to you?
I’ve been reading fantasy novels since I was a young boy and some of my favourite writers from then had an enormous impact on me as a person, my writing and my view of the world. Early influences include Tolkien, CS Lewis, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, David Gemmell, James Barclay and Ursula Le Guin. Gemmell is perhaps my favourite writer and one of the best compliments I’ve ever received about my work is that it reminded the reader of the big man. I tend to write lean, fast-paced fantasy with a focus on character, which is something I learned from him.
The Judas Blossom is a thrilling and fun story. What came first, the world or the characters? And how did the story take shape in your head?
I wanted to write a fantasy story set in Persia. It’s not something I’ve ever seen before, so that was my starting point. The story is set in our world in the 13th century, so research fleshed out the setting, and once I started delving into that period, some of the characters came to me. Some are based on real people and some are purely fictional. Most of the tent pole events in the book are based on factual events, but the timings and who was involved has changed. There is also an element of fantasy sprinkled throughout the book, and lots of fictional stuff that is definitely not historic. Creating this story involved a long gestation period followed by more detailed planning than I’ve normally done for previous novels.
How would you describe the plot of The Judas Blossom if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?
Persian rebels fight back against the Mongol invaders who have occupied their country, and are intent on conquering the rest of the world. Against overwhelming odds, the rebels are determined to destroy the Mongol Empire, from the inside, using whatever means necessary.
Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to The Judas Blossom’s protagonists and antagonists?
There are 4 main points of view:
Hulagu Khan is the ruler of the Ilkhanate, one of the four territories that make up the Mongol Empire. His area covers a portion of the Middle East that predominantly covers Persia. His intention is to fulfil the dream of his grandfather, Genghis Khan, by conquering the whole world and making it all into the Mongol Empire.
Kokochin is a Mongol and the last of her tribe. Her family is killed by Hulagu’s brother and then she’s shipped off to Persia to marry Hulagu. Dumped in a country thousands of miles away from home, with no friends, she attempts to find her place in the world.
Temujin is the youngest son of Hulagu and is a constant disappointment to his father. After another failure, he is given one last chance to prove himself worthy and earn his father’s respect. During this time, Temujin discovers something unusual about himself which sets him on a path no one could have anticipated.
The fourth point of view is Kaivon. He’s the last surviving Persian General. He’s a leader without an army and when an opportunity arises to work for his enemy, Hulagu, he takes it so that he can try to destroy the Ilkhanate from the inside, and free his country.
How much of yourself did you put into your characters? Which one reminds you most?
I didn’t put any of myself into the characters. None of the characters are really like me either. The only thing that echoes bits of me is the nods and understanding of Persian culture that comes from characters like Kaivon and some of the secondary characters.
Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of The Judas Blossom? And who’s the artist?
The talented cover designer is Sarah O’Flaherty. The idea behind the cover was that it had nods to both the story and the part of the world in which it is set. I sent lots of images to Angry Robot Books on a Pinterest board with tonnes of ideas, but mostly I was focused on things like the use of specific colours, mandalas which were included, and flowers. Sarah was able to combine all of these elements together, plus some other things like the warriors on horseback, to create a wonderful cover that is truly eye-catching.
Have you written The Judas Blossom with a particular audience in mind?
Due to the turbulent period in which the book is set, the content is very much for adults because it focuses on the Mongol expansion of their empire through conflict. Therefore, expect lots of warfare, politics, violence and a few vicious battles. Beyond that it’s for anyone who wants to read a story set in a part of the world, and an era, with which they are probably unfamiliar.
What’s new or unique about your book that we don’t see much in fantasy these days?
As far as I am aware, it is the only historic fantasy series ever written that is predominantly set in Persia. There are historical fiction books around this era by writers like Conn Iggulden, but they focus on the Mongols. This series is about the people who have been invaded, and it is about their attempts to fight back. There are other fiction books inspired by the Middle Eastern region, but I’ve yet to find any other fantasy ones. So, I think the setting will be new to a lot of readers!
What are you currently working on that readers might be interested in learning more about, and when can we expect to see it released?
I’m currently working on book 3 in the trilogy right now. Book 2 is written and it will be coming out in July 2024, and book 3 will be out in July 2025.
Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
I’d just like to say if you enjoy a book, email the author and let them know. We work in isolation, never fully knowing if a book will do well, and how it will be received by readers. We never know if readers will understand what we were trying to communicate, beyond the story. So, if a book speaks to you, email or message the author, it really makes our day.